Honduras is one of the most ecologically protected nations in Latin America. Twenty national parks and two biosphere reserves are paired with dozens of smaller reserves, which have helped to preserve the region's most mountainous and forested country and the thousands of rare species that live within it. While enforcement of the borders has been an issue in recent years, few countries can compete with the ongoing level of commitment environmentalists have shown here. Some of the most important parks and reserves are listed below by region.
Parque Nacional La Tigra -- The first protected area in Honduras sits amazingly only 26km (16 miles) northeast of sprawling Tegucigalpa. The former logging site and home of the El Rosario Mining Company has been protected since 1982 and the 238 sq. km (92 sq. miles) of cloud forests, home to quetzals and slews of mammals, are well on their way to recovery.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Ojochal -- Just 13km (8 miles) from the Nicaraguan border, near San Marcos de Colón, the rare dry tropical forests and patches of cloud forests are rarely visited, though a few decent trails intersect the park.
Parque Nacional El Cusuco -- The Merendón Mountain Range, just off the coast and 45km (28 miles) west of San Pedro Sula, is the setting for this pristine tract of cloud forest. The bird life, for those who don't mind the difficulty in getting here, is spectacular. Apart from a healthy population of quetzals, visitors will find toucans, hummingbirds, and parrots.
Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meámbar -- Bordering the east side of Lago de Yojoa, this 478-sq.-km (185-sq.-mile) park runs from a base of coffee plantations and tropical and pine forests to a height of 2,047m (6,716 ft.), where the cloud forests are found. The infrastructure is good, but it is constantly improving, giving greater access to hundreds of bird species and more than 50 species of mammals.
Parque Nacional Montaña de Santa Bárbara -- The second-highest peak in the country, at 2,744m (9,003 ft.), is found within this mostly cloud-forest park on the western side of Lago de Yojoa. While there is no infrastructure, the bird life is spectacular -- more than 400 species, like trogons, toucans, and woodpeckers, as well as the occasional troop of monkeys and other mammals.
Parque Nacional Montaña de Celaque -- The sloping pine and cloud forests -- one of the largest and most unspoiled in Central America -- of Celaque, 9km (5 1/2 miles) west of Gracias, are the starting point for 11 rivers that supply fresh water as far away as El Salvador. While quetzals are frequently spotted, the park also holds almost 50 species of mammals, like jaguars, monkeys, and pumas. Improving trail conditions are helping to open up the park, though few travelers make it this way.
The North Coast
Jardín Botánico Lancetilla -- American botanist William Popenoe, hired by United Fruit in 1926 to research bananas and disease treatment on the plantations, established this facility, which the Honduran government took control over in 1974. Sitting 5km (3 miles) north of Tela, the garden is now the second largest tropical botanical garden in the world, spanning roughly 1,680 hectares (4,151 acres) and containing more than 1,200 species of plants and almost 400 species of birds.
Parque Nacional Jeannette Kawas/Punta Sal -- Sitting on a peninsula in the western corner of Tela Bay, 16km (10 miles) west of Tela, this 782 sq. km (302 sq. mile) park is one of the country's finest. The beaches, pristine coral reefs, and lush green jungle hold an incredible array of species like marine turtles, dolphins, manatees, caimans, ocelots, peccaries, and monkeys. From November to February, the park becomes an important stop for tens of thousands of migratory birds. The Garífuna village of Miami, one of the most traditional in the country, sits within the park, just before the Los Micos Lagoon meets the Caribbean Sea. Tensions between environmentalists and business owners have been ongoing for several years, as the Los Micos Lagoon Golf & Beach Resort project, which some fear will turn Tela Bay into the next Cancun, has taken off. The park was renamed in honor of Honduran activist and President of PROLANSATE Jeannette Kawas Fernández, who was killed after establishing the park amid controversy from business groups.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Punta Izopo -- While the ecosystem of Punta Izopo -- which covers the eastern point of Tela Bay -- is quite similar to that of Jeannette Kawas, it is much less accessible. The wildlife reserve sits 12km (7 1/2 miles) east of Tela, where the Lean and Hicaque rivers meet the ocean, but not before getting lost in a web of canals and almost impenetrable mangrove forests. Caimans, manatees, turtles, monkeys, and plenty of bird species can be spotted in the park.
Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado -- This huge, wildlife-rich estuary, 30km (19 miles) west of La Ceiba, where three rivers -- the Cuero, Salado, and San Juan -- meet the Caribbean, is one of the most important natural reserves in the country. Mangroves and low-lying tropical forests intersected by canals contain nearly 200 species of birds, as well as an abundance of mammals like sloths, ocelots, otters, and howler and white-faced monkeys, plus the extremely rare West Indian manatee.
Pico Bonito National Park -- The jewel of the national park system, the more than 100,000-hectare (247,105-acre) Pico Bonito National Park, south of La Ceiba, contains seven different ecosystems. As it climbs from sea level to the 2,436m (7,992-ft.) jagged mountain the park is named after, the degree of biodiversity becomes almost bewildering. Two main access points, one at Pico Bonito Lodge and the other along the Rio Cangrejal, allow visitors to enter a rainforest cartoon of waterfalls, crystalline pools, and misty green trails. The list of creatures here is nothing short of a dream: 400 species of birds, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, pumas, deer, and white-faced and spider monkeys, not to mention countless species of reptiles, amphibians, and butterflies. To get these results, much of the interior of the park is off-limits to visitors.
Parque Nacional Marino Cayos Cochinos -- It's almost comical how perfect these two small islands and 13 coral cays are. Some hold just a patch of palm trees ringed by white sand and crystalline water. The 489-sq.-km (189-sq.-mile) reserve, 30km (19 miles) northeast of La Ceiba, protects not just the land, but also the pristine coral and flourishing marine life below.
Parque Nacional Capiro y Calentura -- This 4,500-hectare (11,120-acre) national park, 3km (1 3/4 miles) south of Trujillo, holds one 1,235m-high (4,052-ft.) mountain and several zones of tropical forest. Toucans, macaws, and the occasional monkey are only a fraction of the wildlife found within.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Guaimoreto -- Just 5km (3 miles) east of Trujillo sits a large tract of mangrove forest, similar to Cuero y Salado. Inside the forest is one big lagoon with a flurry of canals leading off it that are home to caimans, monkeys, and a seasonal flock of migratory birds from November to February.
Sandy Bay & West End Marine Park -- This collection of protected coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests was started and maintained by concerned divers. It sits just off the north shore of Roatán.
Reserva Marina Turtle Harbour -- In the wild mangrove jungles on the north shore of Utila, this marine reserve was initiated to protect the hawksbill sea turtles that nest here.
Reserva de la Bíosfera del Río Plátano -- This 525,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) of wetlands, beaches, pine savannas, tropical forests, and rivers -- stretching from Olancho to the Caribbean Sea -- is like a mini Amazon, and is one of the world's great natural reserves. Few places on Earth are so dynamic and the biodiversity here is jaw dropping, which is why UNESCO named it a World Heritage site in 1980. Baird's tapirs, jaguars, giant anteaters, spider monkeys, white-tailed deer, white-lipped peccaries, river otters, turtles, iguanas, and a list of avian species that is fast approaching 400 all make their home here. It's not just the wildlife, though. The indigenous Pech and Miskitos also inhabit the park. Community-based ecotourism projects with the help of an international NGO have begun to take off and make access here relatively easy. Still, the best way to visit is on 10-day rafting trips down the Río Plátano from Olancho.
Reserva de la Bíosfera del Tawahka Asangni -- This 230,000-hectare (568,342-acre) reserve, southeast of Puerto Lempira along the Nicaragua border, is even more isolated than the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. It was established in 1999 and surrounds the highly threatened Tawahka indigenous group, who number fewer than 1,000 and live in only a handful of communities along the Patuca and Wampú rivers.
Monumento Nacional El Boquerón -- Two river canyons and one mountain can be found in this 4,000-hectare (9,884-acre) reserve, between Catacamas and Juticalpa, that was the original site of the first Spanish settlement in Olancho, San Jorge de Olancho. Vast tracts of primary and secondary forests and, to a lesser extent, cloud forests can be found here.
Parque Nacional Sierra de Agalta -- The 27,000-hectare (66,718-acre) national park in the Sierra de Agalta National Park that separates Olancho from La Mosquitia holds within it one of the largest -- and mostly unexplored -- tracts of virgin cloud forests in all of Central America. A range of microclimates reveal a wealth of species, including more than 400 species of birds and 61 species of mammals. The popular hiking mountain Pico La Picucha and the Talgua caves can also be found within the park.
Parque Nacional La Muralla -- Once the premier national park in Honduras, a lack of security on the roads leading here and a lack of control of loggers within the park has caused La Muralla, 14km (8 3/4 miles) from La Unión, to lose funding. Still, birders will appreciate the frequent sightings of quetzals and toucanets that live in the cloud and pine forests within the park.
Parque Nacional Pico Pijol -- This 11,206-hectare (27,691-acre) reserve, 3km (1 3/4 miles) south of Yoro, was created to protect four rivers that are an important water source for San Pedro Sula. While it lacks facilities -- there are, at last count, zero -- above 1,800m (5,906 ft.), the cloud forests here are unspoiled and crawling with wildlife.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.